For fans of historical mysteries, reading the Charles Todd books in order is a must for your reading list. Primarily made up of the Inspector Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series, their books take place in and around the First World War.
Both Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford are multi-faceted, complex, and loveable characters. The two series also demonstrate the ability by the authors to write beautifully descriptive prose.
Who is Charles Todd?
Before we dive into the books, it’s important to note a unique element to Charles Todd. It is a pseudonym for a mother and son writing duo who go by the further pseudonyms Caroline and Charles Todd. Unfortunately, Caroline passed away in August 2021, but her legacy will continue on with the books she lovingly helped co-write.
Since their debut novel in 1994, Caroline and Charles Todd have published more than 40 titles. In addition to their most well-known works of Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford, they have published a standalone novel, a standalone novella, a short story collection, and many short stories.
Their debut novel, A Test of Wills, was the first book they wrote collaboratively. They never expected the success it would spark. They have received the Mary Higgins Clark, Agatha, and Barry awards alongside nominations for the Anthony, Edgar, and Dagger awards.
Despite the unique relationship that is part mother-child and part co-authors, the pair seemed to have found their sweet-spot with multiple bestsellers. Following their debut Caroline and Charles settled into a routine of collaborating greatly for the first chapter, before writing their own chapters apart — if not in separate cities, then at least in separate rooms.
As well, also a bit uniquely considering the primary setting of their novels is Great Britain, the Todds are American. Therefore, to create realistic and believable books, much research and traveling was required for each novel.
Spending time in the British countryside and talking to locals, often choosing to divide and conquer to cover more ground, became the heart and soul of their works, according to their website.
There is even an interactive map to locate each book amidst the British and French terrain.
Do Charles Todd books need to be read in order?
It is best to read the Charles Todd books in order of publication. It is not necessary, because you will still understand the plot and investigation of each book, but if you enjoy character-driven stories, it is recommended.
This is true for all of the series by Charles Todd. The Ian Rutledge books follow a First World War veteran and the trauma from war is incredibly important to his character.
As well, the Bess Crawford books then begin during the middle of the First World War. So, following the order of publication will provide the best insight into her character as well.
Charles Todd Books in Order: Inspector Ian Rutledge
Ian Rutledge marked the beginning of their career as authors and also remains their best-known work. This series follows Inspector Ian Rutledge of the Scotland Yard following his return from the trenches of the First World War.
With the societal shame and stigma at the time, Rutledge must hide the traumatic effects the War has left behind. What is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, but was labelled as shell shock in the early twentieth century, impacts Rutledge’s day-to-day life. His guilt and trauma is personified in the voice of a soldier Rutledge shot during wartime: Hamish.
#1 – Inspector Ian Rutledge Books in Order of Publication
As with most mystery novels, each Ian Rutledge book will contain a crime that is solved by the novel’s conclusion. However, character exploration and development is so important to this series which delves into the trauma of a soldier returning from war. If you wish to have the best possible reading experience, reading these Charles Todd books in order of publication is the best approach.
- A Test of Wills (1994)
- Wings of Fire (1998)
- Search the Dark (1999)
- Legacy of the Dead (2000)
- Watchers of Time (2001)
- A Fearsome Doubt (2002)
- A Cold Treachery (2005)
- A Long Shadow (2006)
- A False Mirror (2007)
- A Pale Horse (2007)
- A Matter of Justice (2008)
- The Red Door (2009)
- The Kidnapping (2010) (Short Story)
- A Lonely Death (2011)
- The Confession (2011)
- Proof of Guilt (2013)
- Cold Comfort (2013) (Short Story)
- Hunting Shadows (2013)
- A Fine Summer’s Day (2015)
- No Shred of Evidence (2016)
- A Guid Soldier (2016)
- Racing the Devil (2017)
- The Piper (2017) (Short Story)
- The Gatekeeper (2018)
- The Black Ascot (2019)
- A Divided Loyalty (2020)
- A Fatal Lie (2021)
- A Game of Fear (2022)
#2 – Inspector Ian Rutledge Books in Order of Chronology
There is, however, a second way to read this series and that is, of course, in order of chronology. This is not the recommended reading order if you have not read this series before. It is noted on the author’s website that the best starting place for this series is A Test of Wills, which is the first book in publication order.
However, if you’ve already read this series and are interested in slotting each book into its chronological place on the Ian Rutledge timeline, then this complete list of works will hopefully be helpful for you.
The biggest change between the two lists comes at the beginning. This is because A Fine Summer’s Day documents Hamish’s life in Scotland before his enlistment in the war and The Piper, Cold Comfort, and A Guid Soldier are also prequel short stories to the Ian Rutledge series.
- A Fine Summer’s Day
- The Piper (Short Story)
- Cold Comfort (Short Story)
- A Guid Soldier (Short Story)
- A Test of Wills
- Wings of Fire
- Search the Dark
- Legacy of the Dead
- Watchers of Time
- A Fearsome Doubt
- A Cold Treachery
- A Long Shadow
- A False Mirror
- A Pale Horse
- A Matter of Justice
- The Red Door
- The Kidnapping (Short Story)
- A Lonely Death
- The Confession
- Proof of Guilt
- Hunting Shadows
- No Shred of Evidence
- Racing the Devil
- The Gatekeeper
- The Black Ascot
- A Divided Loyalty
- A Fatal Lie
- A Game of Fear
Charles Todd Books in Order: Bess Crawford
Similar to their first series, the Bess Crawford series also revolves around the First World War. From her father, who was a colonel Major in the British Army, Bess has a strong moral code and sense of duty. Therefore, she volunteers with the war effort as a British nurse in France. However, alongside her service Bess ends up investigating murders as an amateur sleuth.
Opening in 1916, the series begins with a voyage on which Bess grows close to the dying Lieutenant Arthur Graham and promises to deliver a message to his brother in an effort to bring him peace. Unfortunately, the delivery doesn’t go as simply as anticipated and Bess finds herself involved in a maelstrom of intrigue and murder that will endanger her own life.
#1 – Bess Crawford Books in Order of Publication
As is often the case, reading the Bess Crawford series in order of publication is the best way to experience the books. This is because the publication order is largely the chronological order. This is also the way the authors intended to introduce the story and its characters. So, it will be the best way to experience the series and its characters.
- A Duty to the Dead (2009)
- An Impartial Witness (2010)
- A Bitter Truth (2011)
- An Unmarked Grave (2012)
- A Question of Honor (2013)
- An Unwilling Accomplice (2014)
- The Maharani’s Pearls (2014) (Short Story)
- A Pattern of Lies (2015)
- The Shattered Tree (2016)
- A Casualty of War (2017)
- A Forgotten Place (2018)
- A Cruel Deception (2019)
- A Hanging at Dawn (2020) (Short Story)
- An Irish Hostage (2021)
- The Cliff’s Edge (February 2023)
#2 – Bess Crawford Books in Order of Chronology
Once again, similar to the Rutledge series, the biggest different between the chronological and publication order of the Crawford series is at the beginning. This is because of prequel companion works that were published later, but harken back to the start of Bess’s participation in the war, her childhood, or offer back story.
However, this is not the recommended reading order if you are reading the series for the first time. On the author’s website the recommended place to start is with A Duty to the Dead, which is the first book in publication order. This will best build up the character of Bess Crawford, demonstrate her strong moral code, and depict the wartime setting that occupies most of the series.
- The Maharani’s Pearls (Short Story)
- A Hanging at Dawn (Short Story)
- A Duty to the Dead
- The Girl on the Beach (Short Story)
- An Impartial Witness
- A Bitter Truth
- An Unmarked Grave
- A Question of Honor
- An Unwilling Accomplice
- A Pattern of Lies
- The Shattered Tree
- A Casualty of War
- A Forgotten Place
- A Cruel Deception
- An Irish Hostage
- The Cliff’s Edge (February 2023)
Charles Todd Standalone Books in Order
In addition to the two series, the Todds have also published two standalones. The first, The Murder Stone, takes place in England during 1916 and follows an accusation of murder which shakes a family. The second, The Walnut Tree, is a holiday novella that is adjacent to the Bess Crawford series featuring a brief cameo from her while following a different nurse enrolling in 1914 and her story of love amidst the horrors of the war.
Short Story Collections
If you prefer to read your short stories in bind-ups, rather than downloading multiple short editions, then you’re in luck. The Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford short stories The Kidnapping, The Girl on the Beach, Cold Comfort, and The Maharani’s Pearls are available in the below short story collection.
- Tales (2015)
As previously mentioned, the Todds have written many short stories. Some of those that do not fall within their series have been published in the anthology collections below.
- Mystery Writers of America Presents Death Do Us Part (2006)
- A Study in Sherlock (2011)
- Death Knell V (2016)
- Silent Night, Deadly Night (2016)
- Odd Partners (2019)
A Summary of Charles Todd Books in Order
If the premise of murder mysteries in twentieth-century Britain intrigues you, then you will likely enjoy the Ian Rutledge series. As it is the Todds debut and their longest series, here are summaries for the first ten books of those Charles Todd books in order. If you have not read this series before, proceed with caution as some of the summaries may contain spoilers for previous books.
1. A Test of Wills
Ian Rutledge returns to his career at Scotland Yard after years fighting in the First World War. Unknown to his colleagues he is still suffering from shell shock, and carries the guilt of having had executed a young soldier on the battlefield for refusing to fight. But unfortunately, a jealous colleague has learned of his secret and has managed to have Rutledge assigned to a difficult case which could spell disaster for Rutledge whatever the outcome.
A retired officer has been murdered, and Rutledge, fighting the torment of his illness, goes to investigate. But as he digs into the lives of the villagers, the witness who disturbs him most is a war-ravaged ex-soldier who chills Rutledge with the realization that he could become like this man.
2. Wings of Fire
Inspector Ian Rutledge is quickly sent to investigate the sudden deaths of three members of the same eminent Cornwall family. But the World War I veteran soon realizes that nothing about this case is routine.
Including the identity of one of the dead, a reclusive spinster unmasked as O.A. Manning. Her war poetry helped Rutledge retain his grasp on sanity in the trenches of France. Guided by the voice of Hamish, the Scot he unwillingly executed on the battlefield, Rutledge is driven to uncover the haunting truths of murder and madness rooted in a family crypt…
3. Search the Dark
A dead woman and two missing children bring Inspector Rutledge to the lovely Dorset town of Singleton Magna, where the truth lies buried with the dead. A tormented veteran whose family died in an enemy bombing is the chief suspect. But Rutledge is dubious, and presses on to find the real killer.
And when another body is found in the rich Dorset earth, his quest reaches into the secret lives of villagers and Londoners whose privileged positions and private passions give them every reason to thwart him. Someone is protecting a murderer. And two children are out there, somewhere, in the dark…
4. Legacy of the Dead
The weathered remains found on a Scottish mountainside may be those of Eleanor Gray, but the imperious Lady Maude Gray, Eleanor’s mother, will have to be handled delicately. This is not the only ground that Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard must tread carefully, for the case will soon lead him to Scotland, where many of Rutledge’s ghosts rest uneasily. But it is an unexpected encounter that will hold the most peril.
For in Scotland Rutledge will find that the young mother accused of killing Eleanor Gray is a woman to whom he owes a terrible debt. And his harrowing journey to find the truth will lead him back through the fires of his past, into secrets that still have the power to kill.
5. Watchers of Time
The year is 1919, and Ian Rutledge is a fragile yet courageous former soldier searching for his place in a post-war world. Now a Scotland Yard investigator, Rutledge must investigate a small-town murder — and discovers that it may have connections to one of the greatest disasters of all time…
In Osterley, a marshy Norfolk backwater, a man lies dying on a rainy autumn night. While natural causes will surely claim Herbert Baker’s life in a matter of hours, his last request baffles his family and friends.
Baker, a devout Anglican, inexplicably demands to see the town’s Catholic priest for a last confession. The old man dies without knowing that the very priest who gave him comfort will follow him to the grave just a few weeks later — the victim of an appalling murder.
The local police are sure the evidence points to an interrupted robbery, and have named a suspect, Matthew Walsh. But the dead priest’s bishop insists that Scotland Yard oversee the investigation. It’s a simple task for Rutledge.
The Inspector draws on years of experience and a war-honed intuition as he finds himself uncovering secrets that the local authorities would prefer not to see explored. Surely, they reason, it is better to charge an outsider — Matthew Walsh — with murder than to learn that someone in this tightly knit community would commit such a horrendous crime. And yet there are those, Rutledge soon discovers, who held grudges against the priest that had little to do with God or the Church.
In piecing together a different story, Rutledge encounters a chain of events that stretches from these brooding marshes to one of the greatest sea disasters in history — the sinking of the Titanic. Rutledge comes to believe that he alone can stop a killer from striking again.
6. A Fearsome Doubt
In 1912 Ian Rutledge watched as a man was condemned to hang for the murders of elderly women. Moreover, Rutledge helped gather the evidence that sent Ben Shaw to the gallows. And when justice was done, Rutledge closed the door on the case, but Shaw was not easily forgotten.
Now, seven years later, that grim trial returns in the form of Ben Shaw’s widow Nell, bringing Rutledge evidence she is sure will prove her husband’s innocence. It’s a belief fraught with peril, threatening both Rutledge’s professional stature and his faith in his judgment.
But there is a darker reason for Rutledge’s reluctance. Murder brings him back to Kent where, days earlier, he’d glimpsed an all-too-familiar face beyond the leaping flames of a bonfire. Soon an unexpected encounter revives the end of his own war, as the country prepares for a somber commemoration on the anniversary of the Armistice. To battle the unsettled past and the haunted present at the same time is an appalling mandate.
And the people around him? Among them the attractive widow of a friend, a remarkable woman who survived the Great Indian Mutiny; a bitter, dying barrister; and a man whose name he never knew — unwittingly compete with the grieving Nell Shaw. They’ll demand more than Rutledge can give, unaware that he is already carrying the burden of shell shock — and the voice of Hamish MacLeod, the soldier he was forced to execute in the war.
The killer in Marling is surprisingly adept at escaping detection. And Ben Shaw’s past is a tangle of unsettling secrets that may or may not be true. Rutledge must walk a tortuous line between two murderers…one reaching out to ruin him, the other driven to destroy him.
7. A Cold Treachery
Called out by Scotland Yard into the teeth of a violent blizzard in the Lake District of England, Inspector Ian Rutledge finds himself confronted with one of the most savage murders he has ever encountered. Rutledge might have expected such unspeakable carnage on the World War I battlefields, but not in an otherwise peaceful farm kitchen in remote Urskdale.
Someone has murdered the Elcott family at their table without the least sign of struggle. Was the killer someone the young family knew and trusted? What had the Elcotts done to ignite their killer’s rage? Love, jealousy, greed, revenge — or was it some twisted combination of all of them?
When the victims are tallied the local police are in for another shock: One of the children is missing.
Now the Inspector must race to uncover a murderer and save a child before he’s silenced by the merciless elements — or the even colder hands of a killer. With time running out, Rutledge knows all too well that such a cold-blooded murderer could be hiding somewhere in the blinding snow…preparing to strike again.
8. A Long Shadow
Scotland Yard’s Inspector Ian Rutledge brought the Great War home with him, and its horrors haunt him still. On New Year’s Eve 1919, he finds a brass cartridge casing, similar to countless others he’d seen on the battlefield, on the steps of a friend’s house. Soon there are more, purposely placed where he is sure to discover them.
Unexpectedly drawn away from London to a small Northamptonshire village, he investigates the strange case of a local constable shot with a bow and arrow in an allegedly spirit-infested wood. Here among the taciturn townsfolk, embroiled in a three-year-old mystery of a vanished young girl, Rutledge hopes to keep his own ghosts at bay.
But his stalker has followed him. And now the emotionally shattered policeman walking the razor’s edge of sanity must somehow keep his balance long enough to discover who is tracking him…and why.
9. A False Mirror
Hampton Regis, a small harbor town on the southern coast of England, is a most unlikely place for violence. Yet, one early spring morning in 1920, a man is found on the strand so severely beaten that he slips in and out of consciousness.
The prime suspect? His wife’s jilted lover, who served with Rutledge in the recently ended Great War — but who left the Front under a cloud. Badly wounded, yes, but did someone also cover up cowardice?
Now Rutledge must prove the innocence of a man he both dislikes and distrusts. But the deadly triangle also stirs up memories of the woman Rutledge himself loved and lost when he went to France to fight. His doubts about the accused and himself only deepen when the victim of the beating mysteriously disappears, with no body to be found.
As the brilliant yet tormented detective discovers that he’s not the only person seeing a reflection of tumultuous emotions in this case, he must confront the demons that threaten to overwhelm him and search out the truth. For in Hampton Regis hides a vicious killer who intends to let nothing — and no one — stand in the way.
10. A Pale Horse
In the ruins of Yorkshire’s Fountains Abbey lies the body of a man wrapped in a cloak, the face covered by a gas mask. Next to him is a book on alchemy, which belongs to the schoolmaster, a conscientious objector in the Great War. Who is this man, and is the investigation into his death being manipulated by a thirst for revenge?
Meanwhile, the British War Office is searching for a missing man of their own, someone whose war work was so secret that even Rutledge can’t know his real name or what he did.
The search takes Rutledge to Berkshire, where cottages once built to house lepers stand in the shadow of a great white horse cut into the chalk hillside. The current inhabitants of the cottages are outcasts, too, hiding from their own pasts. But who among them is telling the truth about their neighbors and who is twisting it?
Here is a puzzle requiring all of Rutledge’s daring and skill, for there are layers of lies and deception, while a ruthless killer is determined to hold on to freedom at any cost. And the pale horse looming overhead serves as a reminder that death is never finished with anyone, most certainly not the men who fought in the trenches of France.
Final thoughts on the Charles Todd books in order
So there you have all the information you need to start reading the Charles Todd books in order. Their books are incredibly evocative and atmospheric, while offering a compelling depiction of the trauma so many soldiers faced following the First World War when the horrors followed them home.
Have you read either series, or a different book by Charles Todd? Did you enjoy reading the books in publication order? Let us know in the comments below.